Recently I hit the 600-source mark in my research bibliography, and here is my conclusion on the importance of this achievement: Nobody cares.
Science is largely ignored by most people, even though they all benefit greatly from it. If you are reading this on a computer or smartphone, took a prescription today, and know ways to reduce your stress levels, science is making your life better every day. If you are a manager, science would cut your sources of stress significantly if you would make active use of it.
Recipes don’t always work out. Ask some of my dinner dates. But the closer you follow them, the more likely you are to get the results pictured in the cookbook. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a recipe for cooking a high-performing, happy team?
This week I wade into an obscure debate about teamwork research, but give me a chance before you click away. In the process, I will hand you a powerful set of arguments to use when a boss pressures you to do something with your team just because it worked with another team. Scientists call that "anecdotal evidence," and over the years have presented solid proof it is often wrong. It isn't always wrong, so if you are presented with a practice that does not take a huge investment, give it a shot.
Part of the fun of going through studies—yes, I am weird enough to find it fun—comes when business researchers put together two concepts I did not think were related. For example, who would have thought a corporate leadership team's decision-making style might impact whether its company was socially responsible? Apparently, Elaine Wong of the Univ. of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Margaret Ormiston of London Business School, and Philip Tetlock of the Univ. of Pennsylvania would.
Daniel Klein is an economics professor at George Mason Univ. and a self-described libertarian. Though some of his libertarian beliefs would be considered "liberal"—ending of all narcotics laws, for example—most are more on the conservative side, such as ending of the income tax. Klein definitely energized conservatives when he published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal two years ago declaring American liberals ignorant about economics.
There are many ways managers can reduce conflicts in their teams without squelching new ideas. Too bad more don't use them, because a new study gives voice to the critical role of managers in managing disagreements.
Bad feelings about meetings “may lead attendees to have pessimistic attitudes toward meetings, avoid meetings, undermine and not support meeting outcomes, or behave dysfunctionally in meetings.” I bet you are nodding in agreement.
I attended a speech by a consultant with a current Amazon bestseller, who has consulted with an impressive roster of companies and government agencies. Most of what she had to say was scientifically accurate. Much overlapped with my own preachings in her area of expertise. Then, she reported on a study.
Sometimes, dear reader, I wonder if I’m making your life harder. When you read Teams Blog, many “obvious” or popular ideas about working with other people turn out to be more complicated than you thought. Some turn out to be false. And instead of letting you go on doing what worked well enough in the past, I tell you to change your ways if you want to be the best you can be.
We are more alike than different, but we notice the differences more. This truth about individuals applies to teams as well, for top leadership and production teams, medical and construction teams, and virtual teams as compared to standard face-to-face or "collocated" teams. The tasks, jargon, education, and communication methods differ, but the group dynamics are the same.
You pull your coffee out of the microwave oven and settle down for a few moments with a book on persuasion from a psychologist. Into your smartphone goes an idea to try on your boss. Turning to your computer, you use the ergonomic mouse that has saved your aching thumb to drill through some e-mails, thankful the allergy pill you took has kicked in.
Smart teams fail. I’ve personally seen dozens of groups with people smarter than me miss deadlines, overrun budgets, or produce poor-quality, client-enraging results routinely. You can’t walk across the campus of my former workplace, Los Alamos National Laboratory, without tripping over a Nobel laureate. Yet the place has been rife with mismanagement from the top team on down.
I always hesitate to write about "duh findings," study results making so much sense, you wonder why the scientists bothered. But I know why they bother. Sometimes the expected answer proves incorrect. Also, though the information makes sense when you think about it, without the study you never would have thought about it. Those thoughts can lead to new insights.
A study I just posted to TeamResearch News about HR practices points out the way scientists think a little differently than most of us, and thus why I put a lot more stock in what they have to say than in most writers of business stories in popular publications.
Richard Hackman and former Harvard University colleague Nancy Katz are leading researchers in the psychology of small groups. (You should click his name just for the picture caption.) Though written for other scientists, their chapter on “Group Behavior and Performance” in the latest edition of the Handbook of Social Psychology points to some practical advice for nonacademics like you and me. But mostly it should raise questions about whether you are asking the right questions when you think of team best practices.